A powerful new history book that seeks to demystify the notorious Ku Klux Klan has been published by an expert in modern American society at the University of Exeter.

The Full History of the Ku Klux Klan has been written by Professor Kristofer Allerfeldt and charts the lifespan of the KKK, from its foundation in 1865 and campaign of violence in opposition to post Civil War Reconstruction; to its resurrection in the 1960s in response to the civil rights movement and ultimate decline in the modern era.

Published by The History Press, the 430-page book contains grisly details of the Klan’s violent activities as well as uncensored excerpts of some of the racist language they used.

Professor Allerfeldt, of the Department of Archaeology and History, is a specialist on the period that spanned the end of the Civil War to the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

“The Klan is a truly horrible organisation, and nothing should diminish how revolting it is,” he says. “From their sinister attire to their burning crosses, the iconography that surrounds them taps into a deep-held desire that demands that our enemies be truly terrifying. And to some extent, this has fuelled their notoriety and kept them in the public consciousness in relation to racially motivated hate crime even though the reality is that they have been replaced by more disparate far right and white supremacist groups.”

Professor Allerfeldt began writing the book in 2020, and took three years for him to complete. But, he says, The Full History of the Ku Klux Klan represents the culmination of a much more profound period of research, dating back to his PhD at Exeter in 1999.

Since then, he has undertaken extensive reviews of public archives and records, including at institutions in the United States such as the Library of Congress; New York Public Library; the National Archives and Records Administration, in Maryland; and state and university libraries in the likes of Portland, Oregon, Tennessee, Michigan and Mississippi.

“I have spent 25 years trying to understand an organisation motivated by racism, hatred and bigotry,” he says. “I think it is because I want to try to understand why some people feel driven to believe that the world is a better place if you exclude and torment those who are different from yourself.

“Researching an organisation like the Klan is often depressing and frequently horrifying. But we should be proud of the fact that such a hideous organisation has been all but annihilated, and not allow a mistaken view of its past to give it more power in the present.”

This is the fourth history book that Professor Allerfeldt has published on post-Civil War America, and it has received some early and positive international reviews. He has also recorded a podcast for American History Hit, part of Dan Snow’s History Hit series.

“My hope with this book is that readers will see how the Klan can be made into history, both reducing it to historical phenomena and capturing it in engaging historical writing,” he adds.